Brown’s reinstatement into leadership race creates more challenges for Conservatives

If Ontario Progressive Conservative Party officials think they solved a major problem with the reinstatement of Patrick Brown Wednesday, they better think again.

Brown, the victim of unproven allegations of sexual abuse, was cleared to run for the leadership of the party by its leadership committee. But that’s not the end of this story. It’s only another chapter in a saga that’s dragging the PCs to places they just don’t want to go.

“Brown’s registration in the leadership race has ignited a fractious internal battle between his grassroots supporters, caucus allies and the party’s top brass,” Amara McLaughlin of the CBC said in her story Wednesday.

That says it all.

This is no longer a battle between the PCs and Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. This is an internal battle that threatens the party that seems to hold the best chance of unseating Wynne.

Garfield Dunlop, former MPP of Simcoe North, the same seat Brown now represents, told the CBC he was “very, very pleased” by the news Brown will be back in the race.

“This is the guy that rebuilt our party over the last three years, so the reality is that he has done a really good job, but it has been a witch hunt all along,” Dunlop said of the accusations against Brown. “I think he will win the leadership and will be the next premier of Ontario.”

Brown, who won the leadership race in 2015, tried to align the party with the political centre.

“Patrick Brown has been an incredible leader and done a great job,” said Dunlop, adding his list of accolades includes being the original one to bring thousands of new members into the PC party, which includes the four other candidates in the current race.”

But that’s the good news for Brown.

The bad news is he also faces stiff opposition from some key PC figures.

One of those is Interim Leader Vic Fedeli, who told reporters Tuesday before the PCs announced their decision, that Brown did not have his confidence to represent the party in his Barrie riding, but it would be unfair to offer more comment now that he has joined the PC leadership race.

The PC caucus will focus on holding the Wynne Liberal government to account in this session of the legislature, he said.

“The past few weeks have not been easy. We’ve been tested. Our party has been tested,” Fedeli said. “And during some of the most difficult days, many people wrote us off. But we, Progressive Conservatives, have found opportunity in our difficulties. We have found strength in adversity.”

The polls being conducted recently seemed to indicate the PCs are still very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to the upcoming provincial election, despite a tumultuous past few weeks without an official leader.

The PCs would receive 38 per cent of the vote if an election were held tomorrow, an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News, shows.

That’s up two points since a similar poll in December.

The Liberals would get 29 per cent, while the NDP would get 26 per cent.

Eighteen per cent of respondents are undecided, the poll notes.

The poll was conducted between Feb. 15 and 19, a span of days that included Brown’s surprise entrance into the leadership race.

So Brown seems to have weathered a storm here. Whether he can win the leadership race is another question.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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